We all know the New Year is the time for reflection and resolutions. President Obama could afford to do some reflection of his own, both on the policies his administration has pursued that have hurt our economy, and what he can do to start to reverse that damage in the coming election year.
There are two complimentary approaches the president can take to achieve success.
First, he should resolve to do away with rules and proposed rules that will handcuff innovators.
Second, he should resolve to pursue an economic agenda that will promote innovation. Undoing the damage caused in the last three years will be difficult, but it’s important.
The first part of Obama’s New Year’s resolution should be to roll back existing rules and abandon proposed rules that stifle innovation. Whether it’s burdensome visa requirements that negatively impact our travel industry or cumbersome Food and Drug Administration policies, regulation is smothering innovation and our economy. The Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies have proposed and issued scores of new rules and proposals that most businesses have trouble simply tracking, much less observing.
This rollback of overbearing rules would be part of a broad effort to tone down the anti-business tone the administration has taken. For example, there wouldn’t be any more raids like the one conducted by federal agents on Gibson Guitars this year, which was launched on speculation the company was using wood that wasn’t processed according to another nation’s laws.
And this summer, the NLRB released new rules that are designed to make unionization easier by dismissing the privacy rights, internal policies and IT systems of U.S. employers. Earlier, NLRB blocked Boeing from opening a factory in South Carolina, supposedly because Boeing built the facility to spite union workers in Washington.
An equally important task would be to drop proposals that threaten to chill Internet innovation, economic progress and job growth. Although nearly 20 years old, the Internet continues to be the fastest-growing arena for innovation..The Amazons, Googles and Apples of the world, along with countless websites for news, entertainment and networking, are harnessing the power of the Internet to provide new technologies and tools that the American people – and people all over the world – want. But two proposals in Congress would threaten that innovation potential.
The PROTECT IP Act in the Senate (S.968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House (H.R.3261) are supposedly aimed at countering foreign piracy websites that steal and distribute copyrighted content. No one disagrees with that goal. But PROTECT IP and SOPA reach far over that goal by requiring Internet service providers to blacklist any website that even links to a piracy site or advertises a product the rights holders view as enabling infringement. This could spell disaster for video sharing sites like YouTube, or search engine sites like Google.
Rather than being free to create the next great online tool or invent new ways for us to interact with each other, these companies and websites will be handcuffed by the possibility than an overzealous content owner will sic the Attorney General on them. A bipartisan group of senators and representatives have already started this discussion on how to craft for reasonable legislation that will target content pirates while leaving innovators alone. President Obama should resolve to support their efforts.
As the second part of Obama’s 2012 resolution, a pro-active innovation agenda would free business and markets up to inject new life into the American economy by creating new products and new jobs.
Congress took a good first step in finally approving free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which should go into effect early in 2012. We should be pursuing more agreements that would open up foreign markets to American companies.
Congress could also authorize the Federal Communications Commission to make more spectrum available for broadband Internet use. A spectrum auction would raise an estimated $33 billion for the federal government and empower telecommunications companies to continue innovating in handheld devices.
In addition to action directly related to trade and technology, the administration can also take broader actions that will increase innovation. By reforming our immigration system to welcome the best and brightest minds to America, we can bring innovation home. Tackling the federal deficit in a serious way will restore confidence and eliminate a significant weight dragging down the economy.
As the president and his team regroup for 2012 and try to figure out how to market an unpopular president in an election year, they should focus on improving the economy by resolving to make decisions and enact policies that allow businesses to continue innovating. Given what we’ve seen in the previous three years, the business community has its doubts.
But it would do wonders for his chances in November. More importantly, it would be good for the country if President Obama finally began to understand and act on the idea that American ingenuity, not government, will restore the American Dream.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”